Photo depicting the exterior sign of The Seattle Public Library Beacon Hill Branch.

Seattle Public Library Reopening Three Branches for In-Building Service

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

It’s been more than a (very long) year since we could visit any branches of the Seattle Public Library (SPL), but the wait is over for three branch locations restarting select in-building services next week. SPL announced that starting Tuesday, April 27, Lake City, Southwest, and Beacon Hill branches will be open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 

Each branch location will offer 90-minute public use sessions at 25% capacity, with cleaning breaks between sessions. Masked and socially-distanced visitors may enter the library for multiple sessions in a day. Patrons can check out materials on hold, use a computer, print, copy and scan, use the restroom, get help from SPL staff, charge devices, and sit and read. Although browsing the library catalogue and using study rooms and meeting rooms will be unavailable at this stage, the restarting of select in-building services is a major step on the road to expanding in-person service. 

“We have been planning all the logistics of gradually reinstating in-building services for months, meaning that we’ve had to consider and plan for all kinds of factors,” said Andrew Harbison, interim director of library Programs & Services at SPL. “Although things will look different, and you might not be able to do all the things in branches offering in-building services that you typically want to do, we’re on the road to a ‘next normal.’ We will get there!”

Harbison said the three branches were selected for the pilot restart because they were in three different regions in Seattle “and are located in areas of Seattle where residents may be more likely to benefit from resources such as computers and wi-fi,” he said. 

Curbside Pickup and Grab and Go books are available at 12 branch locations, including the Central Library downtown. (Photo:  Chloe Collyer)

Curbside Pickup of books put on hold, as well as Grab and Go books — books available to borrow without checking out — and Checkout Bundles are still available at 12 branch locations. 

Want to head over to the Lake City, Southwest, or Beacon Hill branches once they open for in-building service? Read on to find out what to expect.

What to Know Before You Go

Wear a mask. Masks are required for all patrons and staff at all times. Sanitation stations will dispense masks, including kid-sized masks, and sanitizer and cleaning wipes will also be provided. Since masks must be worn at all times, no eating or drinking will be allowed inside the building. If you require an accommodation, call 206-386-4636. 

Maintain physical distance. Library staff will help patrons stay six feet apart. Computer stations, benches, and seating areas have been reconfigured to allow more space between them. Plexiglass has been installed between computer stations and other service areas. 

Cleaning breaks. At the end of a 90-minute session, visitors will have to leave the building for a cleaning break. Staff will wipe down high-touch surfaces like tables, door handles, and keyboards. Cleaning breaks may take between 30 and 60 minutes. Library branches with in-building services will also be cleaned in detail every night, including floors and carpets, surfaces, stairwells, and restrooms. During cleaning breaks, patrons can still check out books on hold, Grab and Go books, or Peak Picks in a similar way to SPL’s current curbside pickup program.

Computer and Copy/Print access. Computer use is first-come-first-served. All patrons have up to two hours of computer time per day, which can be broken up between multiple sessions. Patrons can also copy, scan, or print up to 10 black-and-white pages per day for free. Fax service is provided at the Beacon Hill branch. Charging stations will also be available on a first-come-first-served basis. 

Staff-assisted checkout. Self-checkout will not be available at this stage, so staff will assist in checking out books placed on hold. 

Pathway to a “Next Normal”

Many safety considerations were factored into the process of restarting in-building services such as HVAC turnover rates, cleaning and sanitizing protocols, plexiglass barriers, and staff capacity. Confidence in safely offering in-person service increased when SPL staff became eligible for vaccination on March 31. 

Even though King County is currently in Phase 3 of reopening, meaning businesses can operate at 50% building capacity, SPL’s pilot branches are on a Phase 2 model, “which means as many contactless services as possible and a 25% building capacity,” Harbison said. “Local COVID-19 transmissions and hospitalizations are once again on the rise, which may push King County back into Phase 2 of the state’s Road to Recovery plan. For this reason we are starting conservatively.” 

To protect patrons’ privacy, SPL will not have contact tracing but will monitor “any information that comes to us related to transmission and exposure risks, similar to what other institutions and businesses have been doing as they have reopened,” Harbison said. 

So far there have been no known transmissions of COVID-19 among staff or patrons since launching Curbside Pickup service last August. As in-building services start up at these three locations, information and feedback from these branches, as well as public health data, will inform a future plan to reopen five more locations for in-building services. 

Visit the SPL website to find out more about SPL’s in-building services or get information about Curbside Pickup, currently available at 15 branch locations, as well as other free SPL resources.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

📸 Featured Image: The Beacon Hill branch of Seattle Public Library is one of three branches that will reopen for limited in-person services beginning on Tuesday, April 27. (Photo: Chloe Collyer)

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